Times Gone By – Elemental Encounters

Captain John Korff, c1870, Photo: Courtesy of Coffs Collections (coffs.recollect.net.au).


FOR the Gumbaynggirr, the coastline is a source of food and of special places, such Giidany Miirlarl (Muttonbird Island) which is a traditional site, used for holding ceremonies in connection with the moon.

For the early colonial maritime community, however, it was a means of transport, and one way to establish location – from Captain Cook’s naming of the Solitary Islands in 1770, charting expeditions, convict transportation and passenger and trading trips.

This area of the coastline was considered particularly hazardous, with very few places to shelter a ship in bad weather.

In mid-July 1847, a ship named Vixen left Sydney for Newcastle but was blown 400 miles out to sea from strong southerly gales, unable to return to the coastline for two weeks.

On Vixen’s return, not only was it discovered they were as far north as the Bellinger River, but they also came across the ketch Brothers in ‘a distressed state’. In early September, the 27-ton ketch with its owner, Captain John Korff and his sons Frederick and Gordon aboard, had left Sydney for the Bellinger River, when they were also caught by the southerly wind.

Unable to render any assistance due to the weather, Vixen travelled on to the Richmond River, taking on a cargo of cedar before returning to Sydney.

In the meantime, Brothers was blown northward past Bellinger River, but managed to find refuge near Giidany Miirlarl and the adjacent headland, where Korff named the island Brothers, after his ketch.

Shortly afterwards, Brothers was reported as being wrecked on Crowdy Beach with only two men aboard, who rowed to the Manning River before returning to Sydney aboard another ship.

Although it is a mystery as to the whereabouts of the Korff men during the wreck, upon reaching Trial Bay, Captain Korff explained his findings to ‘Jack’ James.

James was the oldest and much respected trader to the Richmond River and it was he who reported the find to the authorities on behalf of Captain Korff.



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